Technology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classes

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This article was downloaded by: [University of Illinois Chicago]On: 24 October 2014, At: 12:33Publisher: Taylor & FrancisInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKInternational Journal of MathematicalEducation in Science and TechnologyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: for nurture in largeundergraduate statistics classesM. Bulmer a & M. RODD aa Department of Mathematics , University of Queenslandb Institute of Education , University of LondonPublished online: 12 Apr 2011.To cite this article: M. Bulmer & M. RODD (2005) Technology for nurture in large undergraduatestatistics classes, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 36:7,779-787, DOI: 10.1080/00207390500270984To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &Conditions of access and use can be found at Journal of Mathematical Education inScience and Technology, Vol. 36, No. 7, 2005, 779787Technology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classesM. BULMER*y and M. RODDzyDepartment of Mathematics, University of QueenslandzInstitute of Education, University of London(Received 2 May 2005)This paper reports on a practitioner study of a first-year undergraduate servicecourse that aligns a web-based, studentlecturer communication system with themathematical curriculum. The report presents and analyses data from studentsand from the lecturer and outlines the nature of the technical interface. The paperindicates how communication of the students affective learning needs had apositive influence on the professional development of the lecturer himself.Furthermore, it is claimed that the success of mathematics/statistics teaching thatintegrates emotional responses from learners is intimately related to theknowledge, skills, beliefs and values of the lecturer.1. IntroductionThis paper reports on and analyses a case study of curriculum development: howtechnology can provide a means to nurture students affective responses and helpthem learn mathematics in large undergraduate classes. Specifically, the mathematicscourse from which data has been taken for this report was a module, STAT1,designed for incoming undergraduate students who were to major in biologicalsciences; these students generally did not have high entry qualifications in math-ematics and for most of them this will be the only mathematics module they willstudy at university. Furthermore, central to our analysis is the effect that thistechnology-enabled communication has had on the lecturers own professionaldevelopment. We report lecturer-engagement with the personal communicationsfrom students and illustrate how this contributes to the lecturers application in histeaching of his deeper understanding that learning is emotion-driven. We claim thatthe effects of technological innovation, such as described, are supported by stablevalues held by the lecturer yet can change beliefs about what is important inteaching.The paper is organized as follows: first we discuss methodological issues; then wepresent some background literature. After that, the course context is described; thisincludes the value-orientation that motivated the lecturer to initiate the e-basedpastoral care system, as well as student background and the technological infra-structure. Then data are presented with interpretations: both student e-journal*Corresponding author. Email: Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and TechnologyISSN 0020739X print/ISSN 14645211 online # 2005 Taylor & Francis 10.1080/00207390500270984Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 entries and data indicating lecturer professional development. Finally, the discussionreturns to values and technology in the context of learning mathematics in highereducation.2. Methodological issuesInitially this research was a piece of practitioner action-research by Michael Bulmer:he wanted to find a way of involving the student as a whole person in learning in hislarge statistics course. He devised an innovation, the STAT1 reflective journal,requiring technological expertise, and used it in 2002. As a result the 2003 classwas modified by including an e-journal as part of the curriculum and assessment,and data from these journals were presented and analysed (see below). This wasa standard practitioners action research cycle. However, there were further issuesthat arose from Michael putting his innovation into action that were open forresearch, interpretation and theorisation, specifically: the students affectiveresponses and, the lecturers values and beliefs. Due to common interests in emotionin learning mathematics at university, a collaboration between Michael Bulmer, themathematics/statistics lecturer and Melissa Rodd, a researcher in mathematicseducation was established in order to investigate the following open questions:. What are the effects of affect when learning (service) mathematics as anundergraduate?. How can aspects of affect experienced by a lecturer prompt professionaldevelopment?The data we had were students journal entries collected electronically (withpseudonyms allocated), student biographical and assessment data and Michaelsresponse to these. We started by coding and analysing the students diary entries ina fairly standard fixed-design way [1] using quantitative measures (reported below).However, such investigation involved consideration of students expressing theirfeelings that had an emotional impact on the analysers. Given that affect was agiven category of interest, it became important to report on and investigate furtherthe subjectivities that emerged from the practitioner-researcher, Michael. Theresearch demanded a flexibility (see [1], p. 4) and qualitative interpretations ofdata, which included meta-data of Michaels interpretation of his studentsresponses. Indeed, the adaptations Michael was making in his practice were a resultof his beliefs and values as well as his technical expertise. Hence we found we hadthree strands to be reported: the students views; the practitioners development; thevalues and beliefs. These strands are braided by the technology that underpinnedthe whole enterprise.3. Background literature on affect, technology and learning (mathematics)in Higher EducationLecturers seeking professional development can find self-help books that offerpragmatic advice that includes attending to affective issues in students learning[2]. There are also practitioners reports of teaching that incorporate respondingto students emotion [3]. Some publications offer organising theoretical perspectives780 M. Bulmer and M. RoddDownloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 that are related to affective aspects of learning [4]. And there are reports of studentsvoices: undergraduates have hot emotional responses to studying mathematics [5].The importance of foregrounding the students affective responses is reinforced byrecent neuro-physiological research: emotion and feeling play indispensable roles inreasoning, these affective states are inherently rational ([6], p. 150). Emotions areelicited that trigger the student to plan for study and participation, or possibly, to befrozen by panic; students feelings significantly affect their approach to learning.The nature of higher education teaching changes when up-to-date informationtechnology is exploited [7] and with further technological innovation, there will befurther change. These requirements for changes in teaching methods at universityhave stimulated a research agenda on the practice and nature of teaching in highereducation [8]. Bennett et al. noted There is a lack of research into effective ways ofmanaging the learning of individuals within large groups ([8], p. 30). Our report inthis paper is an example of what they refer to as insider research ([8], p. 3), thatexplicitly incorporates web-based technologies to address emotional aspects oflearning mathematics in large classes at university.The STAT1 course under discussion here is an example of on-line and face-to-face teaching being integrated. Although Coaldrake and Stedman [9] assert thatemploying ICT will shift the academic teachers persona from lecturer to facilitator,our case study refutes this generality, as the ICT used is personalized and custo-mized. Another example in which a practitioner uses technology to engage hisstudents emotions in mathematics learning by personalizing the teaching materials isgiven by Sangwin [10]. In classes of about 200 students, the students have somecomputer quizzes as part of their assessment and answers are processed by acomputer algebra system (CAS) enabling open-ended questions, such as give anexample of a function with a turning point at x 1 to be used. Sangwin explainshow he, the lecturer, can quickly group the students computer-submitted responsesto such a question and use sample responses in the large lecture class. So, in theexample mentioned, he can use specific examples students came up with, forexample, y |x 1|, y (x 1)2 or y cos(x 1), and draw attention to the differentinterpretations different students had. This personalization of examples workswith the students on a more emotional felt level and, we conjecture, has pro-found consequences for their propensity to engage with the abstract material ofmathematics.In an ongoing project, Entwistle [11] has characterized ways undergraduatestudents approach their studies. He notes four principal approaches: deep approach,surface approach, monitoring study and effort management ([11], p. 2). The STAT1student responses suggest that the course structure did give them increased oppor-tunities for managing their effort, monitoring their study and passing assessments(which could count as surface). Other research on undergraduates studyingmathematics found that students at risk of failing were disproportionately outliers,unknown to faculty and with low participation in their undergraduate community[12]. The STAT1 course addressed this issue by (a) encouraging students tocommunicate their feelings to the lecturer through the electronic journals whichthey completed via the courses web-site, (b) incorporating paired coursework, and(c) setting up peer assisted study sessions lead by successful students from theprevious semesters course.The design for mathematics learning in large undergraduate classes that we areoffering in this paper uses web-based technology not only for teaching the contentTechnology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classes 781Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 of a mathematics course but also attends to meta-cognitive development throughpastoral communication of feeling. When operating within a value-system thatrespects student feelings, not only because they are persons, but also because theteaching job is likely to be more effective if feelings are developed too, course-designneeds to address students feelings, motivation and development [13] and is acontribution to what McShane refers to as an under-researched domain [14]concerning subjectivities of lecturers who teach with ICT.4. Context: beginning university, learning statisticsWeb-based technology was used in the module on statistics for biological sciencemajors, STAT1, so that students affective reactions and feeling states could beacknowledged and respected as integral to their learning. Furthermore, these meta-cognitive awarenesses could be actively developed within the course of studyingthe module: students were encouraged to learn more about how their feeling statesaffect their learning within their STAT1 module.4.1. Values, feeling and course designAlmost all human activities involve evaluation that is, appraising the activity inquestion against relevant values, which may be implicit or explicit. In universityteaching, there are many explicit standards laid down by senates and by states, whichrest on cultural values. For example, in the UK and in Australia, at least in thecontext of access to higher education, a meritocractic value the best should haveright of access to higher education, has been superseded by values that society isbetter served by developing a more inclusive access to higher education that willattract a more diverse student body. It is against this contemporary value ofaccessibility in higher education that the STAT1 course was designed.In particular, decisions have to be taken by the designer of the course thatpromote the underpinning values. For example, being told something like Im notreally a maths person from several students, the lecturer was aware that there wouldbe apprehension about taking a maths course, so he set out to design a course whichhad explicit inclusive aims. These included creating a fun learning atmosphere,encouraging interactive learning, going over main concepts, giving examples, andaddressing particular problems and concerns of students.4.2. Technical detailsA website was used to manage much of the course. This site provided news, lecturenotes, data sets for statistical analysis, and other learning materials, all of which wereaccessed by students in their own time. The site was also used in formal contact timefor running computer laboratories and the end of semester computer-moderatedexamination. Visiting the site was thus a regular part of most students lives: duringthe busiest month of the 2002 semester, students each had an average of 172 visits topages on the site. A journal page was created and linked from the sites home page.Unlike most of the pages, students needed to login before accessing this page. Thepage began with a preamble about the possible benefits of contributing to theirjournal, specifically the opportunity for reflective learning and for providingcontinuous feedback to the coordinator. Since Michael considered the reflective782 M. Bulmer and M. RoddDownloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 task to be a potentially useful additional to student learning, and to also encourageregular entries, students were informed on the web page that if they completedentries of at least 50 words in at least 8 different weeks of semester then they wouldreceive a bonus 3% on top of their regular mark for the course.The system was based on a simple forms interface and so would work with arange of web browsers. Entries were stored on the web server as text files associatedwith each student. A limitation of this was that the students who wanted to writemathematics in their entries were severely constrained. Only a small number ofstudents attempted to do this.The lecturer visited a different web page that presented all entries by date andwith coded identifiers (allowing tracking of individuals while preserving studentanonymity). One disadvantage of this anonymity is that the lecturer could notrespond personally to some entries, despite many of them asking for a response.Instead common concerns were address in lectures or open responses were placedon a frequently asked questions web page.5. DataInterpretations of two types of data are presented here: themes from the studentse-journals (there were 770 entries from 96 students, a total of 94,000 words), andreflections from the lecturer indicating professional development issues arising fromthe students communications.Note that the 94,000 words made it impractical for the lecturer to read all entriesduring the semester. Typically a sample of entries were read when time permitted,with more entries read around significant periods in the course, as discussed below.5.1. Student e-journal dataOf 136 students who completed the course, 96 completed at least one journal entryand of these, 51 completed at least eight regular entries of more than 50 words inlength. This was the stated criterion for receiving the bonus 3%. However, as it wasfelt that many students who had not reached the target of eight entries had still madesubstantial use of their e-journal, bonus marks were ultimately awarded to allstudents who had made at least four entries. Table 1 shows the full distribution of thenumbers of entries made during the course.The principal grounded themes in the student data were to do with courseassessment and with personalising their relationship with the teacher.Principal theme 1: Assessment. The assessment structure of this course was novel:there was no final exam but three class tests and a practical exam. The strongestthemes in the journal entries were those that express strong feeling after one ofthe class tests, Test 2. This test was held in an 8 am lecture and the first entry cameTable 1. Frequencies of numbers of entries by students.Entries 03 47 811 1215 16Total count 19 17 44 14 2Count 50 27 18 42 9 0Technology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classes 783Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 10 minutes after the end of the test; there were entries from 26 students in the firstday, totalling 4,000 words. By a week later there had been a total of 78 entriesdiscussing Test 2, with 11,000 words about the test itself. This was around 10% ofthe total entries, and 12% of the total words written. A related theme wasdissatisfaction with the way tests were marked, the practice of giving a multiplechoice test and subtracting marks for an incorrect answer, but giving zero for a blankanswer, causing much indignation. Some of these entries are very me-centredoftentimes with huge feeling coming through untamed prose, for example:I cant believe how hard todays test was! . . .Unless ure a bloody statisticsgenius you havent got a hope of doing well . . .I was really hoping to gainunderstanding and deep learning and I simply cannot with the workloadyou set.But others have a more general view of fairness and justice in assessment, forexample:And while Ill cop it sweet knowing that I still did better than average, I thinkit defeats the purpose of having a test if a student isnt given enough timeto demonstrate what they know.Principal theme 2: Talking with teacher. There were many entries which commu-nicated with the lecturer the assumed reader a problem with a particular conceptthat the student was asking to be re-explained in a subsequent lecture, for example,the notations X and x caused problems for several. Others requested personalappraisal on how can I improve. Other entries in this theme included gripes like:I was sick, not enough petrol to get to lecture, too many other assignments, notenough detail on feedback from project.Alternate theme: Subject matter. There were a few objectively interesting entriesconcerning the subject matter, its relevance or pedagogy. For example a student ofmusic theory wrote how he was fascinated by the fractal music example and goes onto raise serious questions about analysis of musicality of sounds using statistics; anenvironmental science student relates how her new statistical knowledge has helpedher interpret data.5.2. Data indicating professional developmentProfessional development of university lecturers can be thought of as eitherexternally organized, or self-directed. An example of the former would be when alecturer is expected to take a course to develop particular skills, for example in newtechnology. But this report is concerned with professional development of the self-directed, inside type [15]. This is characterized by a lecturer changing his/her views,as a result of some experiences, then, following up this change of viewpoint withactions in the professional domain. In our case, Michael reports that:Usually the lecturer is there to change the students lives, but here the studentschanged my life, in the sense that I became significantly more aware of theirinternal lives and the effect this seemed to have on their learning mathematics.More specifically, awareness of student anxiety, coupled with the beliefan anxious student learns less, stimulated a change of approach during thecourse.784 M. Bulmer and M. RoddDownloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 Furthermore, the journal was a source of energy in his thinking, which remindedhim about all the different views of the students. Rather than being a direct conduitfor change, it was the main source of the expressions of student feeling, which lead toprofessional development in terms of both attitude (as expressed above) and actionin terms of course design: relevant subject matter, several short assessments andpractical assessment.In additional to this broad view, it was also the particular critical incidentthat was important. Michael reports a disturbance, in the sense used by Mason([15], p. 139):Given the large number of entries each day, it was the occasional entry thatdescribed a strong emotional response that most caught my attention and ledto deeper changes in my feelings about the course and the students. Forexample:I came out of that last test feeling ill. Knowing I could do the questions, butagain, not giving myself enough time to get through them. I even screwed upthe easy ones. What is wrong with my head? ... No more excuses. Justdisappointment.This single entry brought the awareness to me that the tests were having aphysical effect on at least one student and that they could lead to a sense ofhopelessness and resignation, all the more significant since the same studenthad started their journal by writing I am thoroughly enjoying the course.It was this awareness that led to action.The increased awareness of students internal lives is a general aspect of profes-sional development that was stimulated by the specific writings of these studentsin STAT1. We now exemplify a further aspect of professional development thatwas stimulated by journal entries: how to resolve the question of which studentsshould work together for group work. First, here are a couple of journal entries,from different students (both female), which prompted re-thinking of courseorganization:it was pretty stupid going with diana for the assignment, but she is a friend andi couldnt say no to her. she knows even less than i do about stats and hasabsolutely no idea what a p value is let alone how to interpret it.I have finish the last the project last week, I feel release. I have done twoprojects with my friend. I did not feel very good about that. Its not that myparner and i did not know each other. Also we are good friends. The problem isthat we are good friend. Its too hard work together. We have different oppionsand own knowlege. Sometimes, depend each others. Its just too hard to worktogether, and there is not good for friendship. Anyway, we finish the projects.thanks god.And Michael writes to Melissa:These two excerpts are particular relevant to me right now. The role offriendships in learning seems an interesting area. I would have thoughtpreviously that friends would more easily provide constructive criticism butperhaps there is also the desire to not hurt each others feelings.Technology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classes 785Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 So these very particular e-journal responses have stimulated looking at improvingthe group work in the course, one feature of which is whether to use self-selectedgroups or assigned groups.6. Discussion: technology, professional development and student learningFrom the underpinning values of inclusivity and wish to nurture learners, thelecturer, Michael, held beliefs that directed the assessment structure of the course.He believed that greater continuous assessment would be popular with students,removing the pressure of a final exam, and the reflective online journal wouldprovide greater opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning. However,the journal provided evidence of student anxiety and stress as a result of the newassessment structure. The lecturers awareness of this student discomfort, coupledwith another belief that an anxious student will tend to adopt a more shallowapproach to their learning led to changes in his practice of teaching: the assessmentwas changed again to make the in-semester commitments less stressful for students,and further support was provided in the form of learning materials, including thewriting of a friendly textbook, and a greater emphasis on the peer-assisted learningenvironment [16, 17].The technology enabled some effects of student affect to be communicated to thelecturer. While the technology, itself, could be employed in any discipline by facultyseeking a rich feedback about their students view of their course and their teaching,it is the case that in mathematics, undergraduate students typically work on problemsets of questions that traditionally do not offer an opportunity for expression offeeling in the submitted version. Hence, arguably, it is particularly relevant in thediscipline of mathematics, where that emotional layer is hidden in its publicexpression, to be able to build communication systems, such as described, seamlesslyinto the course design. The possibility of doing this effectively in a large classdepended on a technological interface that could be used fluently by staff andstudents.This report shows how the technological interface specifically stimulated anaspect of professional development in the lecturer that developed his awareness ofthe importance of students feelings in learning. The intensity of the felt personalcommunication, expressed by Michael as a huge proportion seem to be talking tome as the reader, served as a continual prompt to do a good job for the students,who were making their feelings known to him throughout the course. But of coursethe prompt only has effect when a value system is in place that supports the lecturersactions. So our braided image emphasizes the holistic nature of our claim: that itis the practitioners values together with his/her imagination with and proficiency inavailable technology that facilitates changes in beliefs and hence new practicesin lecturing in Higher Education; this paper specifically addresses issues ofself-observed changes in beliefs.References[1] Robson, C., 2002, Real World Research: a Resource Book for Social Scientists andPractitioner Researchers, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell).786 M. Bulmer and M. RoddDownloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 [2] Gibbs, G. and Jenkins, A., 1992, Teaching Large Classes in Higher Education (London:Kogan Page).[3] Gregory, P., 2004, MSOR Connections, 4(3), 2628.[4] Hatvia, N., 2000, Teaching for Effective Learning in Higher Education (Dordrecht,NL: Kluwer).[5] Rodd, M.M., 2002, Hot and abstract: emotion and learning undergraduate mathematics,Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on the Teaching of Mathematics (at theundergraduate level), John Wiley and University of Crete: Crete(http:\\[6] Damasio, A., 2003, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (Orlando,FL: Harcourt Inc.).[7] Laurillard, D., 2002, Rethinking University Teaching, 2nd edn (London: RoutledgeFalmer).[8] Bennett, C., Foreman-Peck, L. and Higgins, C., 1996, Researching into Teaching Methodsin Colleges and Universities (London: Kogan Page).[9] Coaldrake, P. and Stedman, L., 1999, Academic Work in the 21st Century, HigherEducation Division (Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs).[10] Sangwin, C. 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Teaching in Higher Education, 9(1), 316.[15] Mason, J., 2002, Researching Your Own Practice: the Discipline of Noticing (London:Routledge Falmer).[16] Topping, K.J., 1996, The effectiveness of peer tutoring in further and higher education:a typology and review of the literature, Higher Education, 32, 321345.[17] Bulmer, M. and Miller, V., 2003, Pastoral care for large classes. Proceedings of the4th Southern Hemisphere Symposium on Undergraduate Mathematics and StatisticsTeaching and Learning (Queenstown, New Zealand: International Delta SteeringCommittee), 7177.Technology for nurture in large undergraduate statistics classes 787Downloaded by [University of Illinois Chicago] at 12:33 24 October 2014 first


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